Monday’s exodus was seen as a rare insult to Israel’s security establishment, and was celebrated by Palestinians. The other two prisoners were also absconding on Saturday.
JERUSALEM – Israeli police said on Saturday they had arrested four of the six Palestinian fugitives who escaped from a maximum security prison this week in a case seen as a rare insult to the country’s security establishment.
Two of the prisoners, Mahmoud al-Arida and Yakub Qadri, were captured on Friday night on the southern edge of Nazareth in northern Israel after they escaped from a hole in the floor of the shower cubicle in their cell and exited the tunnel. Had gone. of a prison about 15 miles southeast of the city. A second pair, Zakariya Zubaidi and Mahmoud’s brother Mohamed al-Arida, were seized on Saturday morning in a truck parking lot in Umm al-Ghanem, a village east of Nazareth.
Mr Zubaidi was a prominent terrorist leader during the Second Palestinian Intifada, or insurgency, in the 2000s, and was a former commander of the Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a terrorist group loosely affiliated with Fatah, the secular group that dominates occupied Palestinian politics. Western coast. Police said the other three prisoners are members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an Iran-backed Islamist terrorist group, and are serving life sentences for their involvement in attacks on Israeli civilians.
Video published by Israeli news media showed two prisoners who were caught inside police cars on Friday in handcuffs, dressed in civilian clothes. Israeli news outlets reported that the pair were arrested after a tip by residents of Nazareth, who said they had asked for food. More videos released by police on Saturday morning show two blindfolded men, believed to be Mr Zubaidi and Mohamed al-Arida, being escorted by officers to police cars. Is.
The escape was seen as a dangerous embarrassment by the Israelis, who questioned whether such high-profile prisoners were able to break out of a high-security prison, with their absence lasting almost two hours.
For many Palestinians, his flight was a fleeting cause for celebration – a symbolic victory over an Israeli prison system seen as synonymous with the occupation of the West Bank.
Officials said two other fugitives who were also absconding on Saturday morning, both are members of Islamic Jihad. One, Ehm Kamaji, was serving a life sentence for the kidnapping and murder of Eliyahu Asheri, an Israeli teenager, while the other, Munadil Nafayat, had been in prison without charge since 2019.
Mr Zubaidi was a well-known figure in Israel, having received an amnesty in 2007 and has since renounced violence.
After the Intifada, Mr. Zubaidi helped run the Freedom Theater in his hometown of Genin in the northern West Bank. But he was arrested again in 2019, accusing him of helping carry out attacks on Israeli settlers.
After removing part of the shower room floor and lowering themselves into the cavity running beneath the prison, the six cellmates escaped from Gilboa Prison on Monday at around 1:30 p.m. Then they crawled for about 32 yards under two walls, two barbed wire fences and a pack of sniffer dogs, evading the detection of 40 prison guards.
The fugitives came out through a hole in the ground, just a few feet from the prison’s eastern wall, before setting foot through nearby fields. Their absence was confirmed around 3:30 am, when the citizens of the area reported suspicious persons roaming near the jail, which was followed by a jail roll call.
Trying to prevent a second jailbreak, Israeli authorities moved another 80 prisoners from Gilboa to other prisons, a move that sparked riots in some of those prisons.
The exodus also inspired many protests across the West Bank, as Palestinians expressed solidarity with the fleeing people. About 5,000 Palestinians are held in Israeli prisons, most of them on terrorism charges. Many Palestinians see them as heroes of the struggle for Palestinian sovereignty.
The first two arrests on Friday night were followed by rockets fired from the Gaza Strip, a stronghold of Islamic Jihad. No one was reported injured, and it was not immediately clear whether the launches were linked to the arrests.
In a separate episode earlier in the day, Hazem al-Julani, a Palestinian doctor, tried to stab an Israeli police officer in the old city of Jerusalem, prompting the officers to shoot and kill him. He was the latest of at least 60 Palestinians killed since the start of the year, mostly by Israeli security officials, according to a tally compiled by rights group B’Tselem.
Jonathan Rosena Contributed reporting.